Before Military Force,
An Application of a Generalized
Just War Principle of Last Resort
by John W. Lango
Last Resort and Nonviolence
Traditionally, the just war principle of last resort requires that, before resorting
to war, every reasonable alternative measure must be attempted. My view is
that traditional just war principles should be generalized, so as to be applicable to
military actions of all sorts—for example, armed humanitarian interventions and
counterinsurgency operations. In this paper, such a generalized just war theory is
presupposed. In particular, I shall presuppose a generalized last resort principle
that requires that, before using military force, every reasonable alternative measure
must be attempted. My thesis is that among these alternative measures is nonviolent
action. For concreteness, the new U.S. counterinsurgency field manual is examined.
The generalized last resort principle morally obligates a U.S. counterinsurgency
operation to use the means of nonviolent action, whenever it is reasonable to do so.
Pacifism and just war theory are often portrayed as rivals, but this paper explores
one way in which just war theory could benefit from the tradition of nonviolence.